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Venison Ragu'


I really like venison and I used to make this recipe all the time. For reasons unknown to me, my father, who used to give me an unendless supply of venison, stopped supplying it. For the past 5 years, I've been asking him for some every time he comes to visit and every time I go to visit him in West Virginia.  He would tell me the same thing each time - he didn't have any.  So I decided to take matters in my own hands.   Since I used to get it for free and deer are plentiful, I figured that I could just buy it fairly cheap. So I went to my favorite grocery store, Wegmans, a store that has everything, to attempt to purchase it. Well, while Wegmans had some in stock, the cost was incredible. There was no way I was paying $24.00 for an 8 ounce tenderloin, not when I used to get it for free.  All I can say is if this is the going rate, I can totally understand why it has been scarce these last few years.  So much for taking matters in my own hands.  

I was now on a mission to get some venison cheaper than $48.00 per pound. After all, I am originally from West Virginia, and since almost everyone I know in West Virginia owns a gun and hunts, there had to be some venison cheaper than the price at Wegmans.  During a recent visit to West Virginia, I asked around and I struck the jackpot!   Many thanks go to my Dad's friend, Robert Mancuso and his daughter and her husband, Tim and Jerri Rodeheaver, for the venison I used to make the bolognese below.  Tim went hunting the day after Thanksgiving and gave me almost 30 pounds of the best venison I've ever had.  And many thanks to my father for deboning and grinding it for me.
The venison was superb and the bolognese was delicious and just what I was craving. 
Adapted from Giorgio Locatelli: Made in Italy, Food and Stories
Makes 8 servings


  • 4 pounds of ground venison
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons juniper berries
  • up to 1 bottle of red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 to 5 cups of canned whole tomatoes, crushed through a food mill (to remove seeds)
  • 4 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh basil 


Step 1: Take the ground venison out of the fridge and lay it on a tray. Let it come to room temperature, so that it will sear rather than steam when it goes into the pan.
Step 2: Heat the oil in a wide-bottomed saucepan, add the vegetables, minced garlic, juniper berries, and rosemary, and sweat over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes without allowing it to color (you will need to keep stirring).
Step 3: Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the pan of vegetables, making sure that the meat is covering the base of the pan. Leave for about 5 to 6 minutes, so that the meat sears underneath and heats through completely before you start stirring (otherwise it will ooze protein and liquid and it will steam rather than sear). Be careful not to burn the vegetables. Add a little more oil, if necessary to prevent this from happening.
Step 4: Stir the  meat and vegetables every 4 minutes for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the meat starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. At this point, the meat is ready to take the wine.
Step 5: Add the wine and let it reduce to virtually nothing, then add tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring the entire time. 
Step 6: Add the crushed whole tomatoes with 4 cups of water. Bring to boil, then turn down to simmer and cook for about 2 hours, adding water, if necessary from time to time, until you have a thick sauce. Add basil.
Step 7: When you are ready to serve the bolognese sauce, cook your pasta (preferably tagliatelle, pappardelle, or a short pasta) and drain, reserving the cooking water. Add the bolognese sauce to the pasta and toss well, adding some of the cooking water, if necessary to loosen the sauce. 
Step 8: Serve with freshly grated Reggiano parmesan cheese.

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